5 Things I Learned In Sending A Son Away To College

We are well into our years as empty-nesters. Both of our boys have finished college, one is in grad school, but both are supporting themselves and on their own.

I loved the time with our boys at home. We had great relationships. They were (and are) two of my best friends.

The first son attended a local college and lived at home most of the time. It was a different season, but we still got to spend a lot of time together. The youngest went to school 8 hours from home.

I’ll never forget the feelings of driving away from him freshmen year. Wow! It was painful. I mourned. I cried. It was a deeply sad occasion. If you’re going through that now — I’m praying for you as I type this post.

In the process of him leaving I learned a few things:

It was much harder than I thought letting go. My counseling background tells me I began a mini-depression about a month before he left and it was a few months afterwards, probably shortly after the first semester ended and the Christmas break ended, before I felt “normal” again.

I prepared my boy, but not my emotions. I am not an extremely emotional person. This changed the day I said “goodbye”, got in the car and drove back home. I was an emotional wreck.

It is never the same, but it can be better — at least in some ways. I missed seeing Nate terribly, but our talks became even more open and honest than when he was at home. As he grew to be a man, our relationship became deeper, more personal.

I couldn’t wait for his calls/texts/emails. There was a charge in my spirit when I looked down at my phone and saw it was Nate. I longed for communication. When our boys were at home we had disciplines — such as a nightly meal — where we could discuss the events of the day. We couldn’t expect those every day from college. And, most days they didn’t happen — but when they did it was golden.

It began a new phase of life for Cheryl and me. Our parenting is not over, but our role has changed. We began to make new dreams — just for the two of us. We enjoy our time with our boys when we are with them, but we love our life together. It’s a good season.

Shortly after Nate went to college I wrote him an email and posted it here. You can read the post HERE.

For some things I have learned in parenting, see this CATEGORY.

5 Don’ts of Healthy Communication

In my career, I work with a lot of people in a lot of settings. You might say my job involves a lot of relationships. In the process, I have learned the key to healthy relationships is communication.

Communication is an art of sorts. Some are better at it than others.

I have seen relationships destroyed because of poor communication. I know marriages which could improve if we improved the communication in the marriage. I’ve seen people avoid other people, because they know how the communication will go when they encounter them. I’ve known people who are short on quality relationships, and, honestly, many times it is because they never learned or don’t practice healthy communication techniques. Careers are made and destroyed by a person’s ability to communicate effectively – or not.

So, sincerely, this post is intended to help. I want to share some things not to do in attempting healthy communication. We are all guilty or some of these at times – this blogger/pastor included.

Here are 5 Don’ts of Healthy Communication:

Don’t always have a bigger story.

This is the one I’ve been guilty of the most of these five. Someone is telling you their story and their experience reminds you of your experience. So, naturally, you interrupt their story, or don’t appear to be listening closely, because you want to share your story. But, remember, right now they are sharing “their” experience. It is important enough to them to share it with you. Don’t try to trump their story. It is rude and it shuts them down. Discipline yourself to wait for the right opportunity – and be okay if it doesn’t come – sometimes your only role is to listen.

Don’t talk more than you listen.

This will address the person you’re thinking of in the first point that is always sharing their story. They never listen. They don’t give you a chance to share yours. If this is you stop talking and listen. Ask questions. Show genuine concern. Be interested in what others have to say too. You’ll find people more interested in what you have to share when it’s your turn.

Don’t always be negative.

All of us are negative at times. Life is hard and it impacts us. That’s partly what friendships are for – to share our burdens with one another. But every conversation and every comment we make shouldn’t be negative. It makes it difficult to build a sustainable, healthy relationship, because sometimes the other person needs you to be positive on the day they are especially negative.

Don’t consistently have the last word.

Sure you’ve got one more word to share. We get it. Most likely you’ve already proven that point. But, sometime let the other person say the final word. It’s humbling for you – and good – for you and them. And, the conversation. And, the relationship.

Don’t speak before you think.

This is so important. Maybe the most important one. It includes the saying, “If you can’t say something good, don’t say anything – or nothing at all.” (If you want to be like Thumper.) If we could catch our words before they exit our mouths, filter them through the power of love and grace, then release them, we could keep from injuring those with whom we are trying to communicate. And, relationships could thrive apart from the injury of inappropriate or awkward – often even mean-spirited words.

Okay, be honest, upon which of these do you need to improve?

Remember, I shared mine. Now your turn.

An Elementary Approach to Facing Conflict

I’ve seen a lot of conflict in my life. From parents and couples in my office for counseling to employment situations where two people can’t get along. I’ve even seen a fight in the grocery store because someone thought someone else cut line. And, I’ve been to more than one church business meeting gone bad.

As an observer, I’ve learned a few things about facing conflict. Primarily, I’ve observed the way one person responds often determines the way the other person responds. That makes sense, doesn’t it?

When you are backed into a corner and facing potential conflict you have a choice. You can come out fighting or you can be smart, plan your response, and help turn the situation for good.

In fact, the secrets of facing the fire of conflict should be elementary.

Here are 3 elementary approaches to conflict:

Stop

Stop and think. What is the best approach? What do you really want to accomplish? Based on your time to reflect – how should you respond?

The opening moments are always critical in any conflict. You can quickly back someone or yourself into a corner. Cornered people move into a self-protection mode, fail to react rationally, and the sense of what’s best is lost.

It requires practice, but take adequate time to plan the best way to approach the other party. It may require you being silent when your prone to speak, but this one step often avoids much of the unnecessary and unproductive conflict. (As an example, Jesus took time to make a whip before driving the money changers out of the temple. John 2)

Drop

Drop the right to win. That’s hard, but if you want the conflict to be resolved you have to start with the attitude that you want the best resolution – even if you don’t get everything you want in the outcome.

When you come into a potential fiery situation with a have-to-win attitude you cloud your ability to work for the best results. Self-centeredness always gets in the way of healthy conflict. Be humble and agree you are going to do what is best, even if that means you don’t get your way.

This doesn’t mean you give in to the other party, but the goal in conflict should not be to win personally, but to reach the best solution for everyone.

Roll

Roll out the best approach. Use the appropriate strategy, skills and temperament to resolve the conflict. This means you hold your temper, watch your words, and value the other person’s viewpoint.

I realize it takes two or more people to make this happen, but when one party is willing to do the first two it makes accomplishing the best so much more likely.

Go into every potential conflict with a humble desire for the best solution to be accomplished.

Stop, drop and roll.

7 Thoughts to the Families of Introverts

Whenever I post about the subject of introversion I hear from fellow introverts. Some of these are apparently even more introverted than me. And, that’s a lot of introversion.

I usually am addressing introversion in leadership, but in talking with a young pastor after one of these posts I discovered there was another issue we needed to address. This particular pastor was having some issues at home with introversion. He had managed to be extroverted for his church, but when he got home, he had nothing left to give. He felt the tension. He wanted to push through it, but he didn’t know how. He didn’t want to talk about his day. He didn’t want to share what he was thinking. He was done. Words spent. Empty.

His wife was growing increasingly impatient with a lack of intimacy in communication, limited social life, and simply feeling left out of part of his life.

Of course, I only heard his side of the story. He knows what he needs to do, but he doesn’t know how to do it.

Her side of the story (according to him) – she doesn’t understand how he can be so introverted – even when it’s with his family.

I get it. I really do.

So, this post is to the families of introverts. There are a few things I’d love to say to you. I hope they are helpful.

Here are 7 words to families of introverts:

We aren’t crazy.

Sometimes you think we are, don’t you? Be honest. When we don’t talk for long periods of time – even when we are with people – you assume we must have a few screws loose somewhere. We probably do – as you possibly do – we are all desperately in need of grace. But introversion isn’t one of the things which make us crazy. We aren’t weird – okay, again, some of us might be, but not just because of introversion. In fact, you may not know this, but there are lots of introverts around. Lots. Mega lots. You may even have overlooked some of us because we aren’t always trying to get your attention. We may appear extroverted in public, often because it’s our job, but there are lots of us who are really introverted.

It isn’t personal. 

When we don’t not talk because we don’t want to communicate with someone. We don’t talk because we are introverted. We need to have something to say. We probably think a lot more than we say. It’s hard not to take it personal though, isn’t it? But, it most likely has little to do with you when we don’t talk to you as much as you wish we would.

We do love you.

This one is huge. The crazy thing about introverts – that I know some have a hard time believing – is that most of us really do love people. A lot. More than you can imagine. In fact, the measure of extroversion or introversion, from what I can tell, has no bearing on the degree of love a person has for others. That’s a whole other side to a person’s personality and character. If one expectation you have of love is talking a lot, you’re going to be disappointed at times. But, this may help to know – for some introverts, one expectation we have of love is giving the people we love time to not have to talk. (Figuring out how to balance those expectations is tough, isn’t it?)

We need time to recharge.

The amount of time is relative to the amount of extroversion we had to do to get to the opportunity for introversion and the degree of introversion we have. But, all of us need that time. We may even crave it. This is especially true after very extroverted events or settings. For my pastor friend I mentioned above, that’s Sunday afternoon following a Sunday morning. (Funny how Sunday afternoons always follow Sunday mornings.)

Preparation helps.

If you give us advance warning, we can often better prepare for conversation. We can gear up for it. I know that may be difficult to grasp for especially extroverted people, especially when it involves people we love so much. Please understand, though, that introversion impacts how we relate to others – not how we feel about them. I love my wife. More than anything. And, she shares my calendars so, thankfully, she knows the times I am more likely to revert to my introversion preferences. I find, however, that my wife and I having a routine time where we interact together at night, is the time I’m ready to dialogue with her best about my day and hers. And, she loves this time. I do too. Seriously. It works better for me because I’m prepared for it – actually looking forward to it – and it works better for her because I actually talk. And, want to.

We don’t have a right to ignore you.

Do I need to repeat that one? I will. We don’t have a right to ignore you. And, my introverted friends can get frustrated with me if they want to, but we don’t. You can expect communication. Relationships are built on communication. We just have to figure out how to make it work with your personality and ours. We can do that, can’t we? And, you can tell them I said it. Get an outside party (such as a counselor) to help you if you need it. We can’t expect people to ignore their personality – and we should work to respect other people’s personalities, but we can expect two people in a healthy relationship to find a balance that allows healthy, intimate conversation – at a level that meets the needs of both in the relationship.

Activity often produces conversation.

This may sound strange unless you’ve experienced it, but as an introvert, I talk more — and am more comfortable doing so — when I am being physically active at the same time. Walking with Cheryl helps us communicate better. Our communication is strengthened when we have an activity we do together regularly. So, we walk often. Almost daily. It’s good for our health and our marriage. Certainly we walk enough so she feels we’ve communicated. What’s an activity you could do with your introverted family member which might produce more (and better) conversation? (Play a board game, go hiking, take a drive, etc.)

Here’s the disclaimer. Not all introverts are alike. Just as not all extraverts are alike. And, there are varying degrees of introversion and extroversion. It’s important not to put people into boxes – and that’s not what I’m trying to do here. Maybe the best follow up to this post is a conversation with your introvert on how the two of you could communicate better. More than anything, as a relationship counselor and pastor, I want to help people better communicate. Sadly, I’ve sat on the outside of dozens of relationships in trouble and communication is almost always one root of the problems in the relationship. This post isn’t counseling – and my intent was a very soft approach, but the issue here is huge for some couples. Don’t be afraid to get help if needed.

Are you an extrovert married to an introvert? Any tips you’ve learned that can help?

20 Things Good Dads Do In Parenting

Twenty things good dads do…

They challenge. When the challenge comes from dad we listen seriously. We know its being said with a loving concern.

They inspire. Great dads want better for their children than they achieved, so they are always pushing us beyond what we think we can do. (Sometimes they push too hard, but this, too, is an error of love.)

They build. Maybe it’s the midnight toy-factory production, the night before scinence projects or the ongoing project which provides for bonding and teaching times. (And, occasionally a lesson or two in refining patience.) But, more than anything, great dads build elements of character which last a lifetime. 

They provide. As best they can, good dads want their children to have what they need to be happy and successful in this world. And, there is a constant tension for good dads between working hard to provide and being there for the ones for whom they are providing.

They encourage. Good dads stand on the sidelines ready to cheer you to victory. Just when you think you can’t go on anymore, you’ll hear a voice from dad, “You’ve got this!” If whispered in sincerity and love that is a whisper which can last a lifetime 

They discipline. A good father is not afraid to do what is hard to achieve what is best. No discipline is easy, but when lovingly given, with purpose and intentionality, it makes all of us better.

They listen. The ears of a dad are attentive to the questions, concerns and actions of his children – also knowing what isn’t being said may be just as important as what’s said.

They counsel. Wisdom comes with time and experience. Dads sometime grow up fast when the reality of their little one comes into the world – and, then the child begins to grow up into their own person. Dads don’t always know what to say, but often what they say will only be realized as true years after they said it.

They validate. There is something powerful about the words of affirmation from a dad. When you know you have his confidence you can more assuredly face whatever the world brings.

They play. They wrestle. They tease. They dress up and have tea parties. They laugh. They make up funny songs and – just when nothing seems exciting about the day – they entertain. (And, no one else would think it’s entertaining, but we do. Just don’t do it when our friends our here, dad.)

They model. A good dad walks his talk and leaves an easy-to-follow trail. And, children are watching closely.

They pray. Knowing they don’t have all the answers, a good dad carries his concern’s and the concerns of his family, to the One who has all the answers. A dad on his knees is a dad with confidence and assurance – from his Dad. 

They teach. Good dads find those nuggets of life where time presents itself a teachable moment. They instill godly principles and values into their children by what they intentionally say and do. They are grounded in truth. 

They strengthen. When a child is wondering if they are strong enough – or if they have what it takes – enter in a good dad to let the child borrow from his strength.

They endure. Through the good seasons and the bad, good dads stand the test of time. When knocked down they get up, dust off, and try again. They don’t make excuses. They move forward for the good of others (and themselves.)

They forgive. This is hard for many men, and it may take them time to process, but good dads work to be at peace with their children. They extend grace. They finish well, attempting to right the wrongs done in the past whenever possible.

They believe. Good dads believe in the best of situations. The world can’t discourage them for long. Their faith helps them overcome evil with good.

They lead. Good dads are helping their children get somewhere in life. They help them navigate through the days of uncertainty and fear. (That’s what leaders do – and good dads are leaders.)

They protect. Whether from the things which (appear to) make noises at night or the evils of this world invading the family, good dads stand strong against whatever threatens the family.

They love. Because love really is the greater gift. And, good dads love well. Love never ends.

Dads!

I had these words for several years in a post with no explanation what I was thinking with each one. As I’ve added a statement around the 20 words, I realized I’ve created quite a challenging list for us dads.

Here’s the thing – there are no perfect ones – except our Heavenly Dad – but good dads try. Every good dad I know wants to do the best he can. Don’t let this list beat you up. Let it inspire you. That’s what good dads do. You model your reactions by the way you respond to life’s challenges. 

And, some good dads have left us already – at least from this earth – and still, they do what they do through the memories and legacies they left behind.

Give a shoutout to a good dad today! Thank you God, for good dads.

If you’re reading this and none of these line up with your experience with a dad, please know I understand. I deeply understand. It was hard for me to write these and know I missed many of them with an absentee dad most of my growing years. Yet, now that he is gone, and I’m forgiven him, I can honestly say I miss him. And, see looking back how many of these may have been goals of his – many times he simply didn’t know how. 

And, even more, I also know my Heavenly Dad fulfills all these and more for me. Plus, thankfully, through my own intentionality, there have been other men who have done some of these in the role of a dad to me. Praise God for those men. 

Mother: What a Great Word!

Demonstrating love in so many ways.

Mother

Is there a sweeter word in the English language?

Maybe your word is:

Mom

Maybe your word is:

Momma

Or, many of the tousands of words in any other language which comes with the same deep meaning and emotion.

Unconditional love.

Sacrificial giving.

Forgiving easily.

Striving to provide perfect environments for others.

Incredible patience.

Strength beyond measure.

Always believing the best from and for her children.

A model and teacher of compassion.

Skilled for laughing at kid jokes – even those which aren’t even funny.

Accepting of others.

Stability during chaos.

A tender touch and a firm hug that never lets go – even when no longer physically together.

Mother

I’m always reminded of the mother’s heart who doesn’t have children of her own, but who displays the applied meaning of the word every single day.

Thank God for the mothers of the world.

What do you think of when you hear the word mother?

What To Do When You Don’t Have Words to Say

Helping People Grieve...

I have done a few too many funerals for children when the parents are still living. Every funeral is difficult, but these are some of the hardest.

One teenager comes to mind. I went to school with his mother and his father is a dear, personal friend. He was supposed to start college the following week, but tragically died in a car accident. He was a well-loved, funny, popular boy and the funeral home was packed with people paying their respects. As you can imagine, there were hundreds of students wrestling to understand why this happened to their friend. The receiving line for the family lasted for numerous hours over a couple of days.

I remember a number of people asking me the same question as they proceeded through the line: “What should I say to the family?”

What can you say to grieving parents, family members and friends at a time like this?

In times like these, there usually are no words, which can fully bring comfort to devastated people in the initial shock of their loss. They are hurting. They are hurting with a pain whose depths most of us can never imagine.

When there aren’t words to say – say nothing if there’s nothing to say – just be there.

Of course, you’ll speak. So, tell them you’re sorry, but don’t try to make explanations. Don’t try to give them a why. Don’t try to have fancy words of wisdom.

Give them a hug – and hold them until they let go.

Cry with them – and assure them you care.

Pray for them – and do this continually after you leave their presence.

When there aren’t words to say – just be a friend.

I’m reminded of the great sufferer Job. When he had lost literally everything he had – his wealth, his family, his health – and the respect of his wife – his friends came. And, they sat with him for seven days and said nothing. 

Sometimes your presence is the greater gift in times where there are no words.

In fact, when someone you love is hurting, the presence of a friend in those initial days of grief may be more valuable than the words of a counselor, or pastor, or any other professional.

Words will come in days to come – and, then you may need the professionals to help you say the right things, but initially, just be present.

When was the last time you were in a situation where there was simply nothing to say? 

7 Things Which Have Brought Me Personal Success

Advice to young leaders

I get asked frequently by young leader what I would you attribute most to my success in business, ministry or life.

Great question. I love people who think. It takes intentionality to achieve much of the success we do in life.

My first thought when I am asked, however, is usually “What success?”.

When I look back at my life, in many ways, I see a life scarred with personal failures and setbacks. But, over the years I have learned God has blessed me greatly – much in spite and much because of my personal failures.

Let me be clear about something, one of my missions in life is to help younger leaders succeed, so this is my sole motivation for answering this question. I am still very much a work in progress, but as I reflect on where I am midway in my life and career (and approaching a little beyond midway), I can clearly point to some things which have helped me succeed personally.

Here are 7 things which have brought me personal success:

God’s grace

I can’t deny it. It’s really all grace. I do not deserve the favor I have found. His grace has been amazing in my life. And, the more I have pursued Him, allowed Him to have His will in my life, and credited all to His glory the more grace He seems to extend. He’s a generous God.

Other people

I have had so many people invest in me. Don’t misunderstand. I’ve been intentional with networking and wisdom-seeking – always having mentors in my life whom I recruited, but I’ve had great people in my corner to help me along the way. Nothing of value is done without the help of others. And, if your goal is to be a leader – there is no leadership without people.

A little luck

Honestly, I don’t believe much in luck. It IS all grace. I think God is always at work around us, and He certainly has been in my life, but sometimes we find ourselves in “the right place at the right time”. Learning how to capitalize on those times has been key for me. Seize the day and seize the moments. Every moment and every connection you make is an opportunity – and sometimes a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Purpose

I have usually known what I ultimately want to accomplish. I believe you hit more targets when you have them in site. Sometimes this has been a few months down the road or a few years down the road, but I’ve most always tried to keep some direction in front of me – as much as God will allow me to see at the time. And, you may even get it wrong, but you’ll learn from this too and find a better purpose.

Intentionality

Probably if there were one word to describe how I want to live my life it would be this one. Since I was in high school, I have intentionally pursued opportunities to accomplish where I felt God was leading me. But, I’ve been intentional in every area of my life, not just in my vocation. I think it is critical to living a balanced life (as much as we can achieve balance) and for attaining personal success.

Tenacity

I have weathered a few storms – actually, many storms. My list of failures, setbacks and disappointments is long – some I caused and some which were beyond my control. Every time, again, by God’s grace, I have gotten back up, refocused, learned valuable life principles and moved forward. The longer you dwell on the past and missed opportunities the longer you delay future success.

Commitment to help others

I believe this is huge. I genuinely love helping other people succeed. It’s been a pulling force in my life to do much of what I do. The purpose of this blog, for example, is for this reason. (I seldom look at my analytics. It doesn’t matter except in the sense I’m trying to be purposeful and intentional.) And, here’s the thing – my personal investment in others has always returned to me tenfold.

So, there’s my attempt at an answer to how I have attained any success I have.

What has gotten you where you are today?

5 Reasons Your Dream Life Never Came True

Many of us start out with better dreams than we are currently living.

The fact is I talk to a lot of frustrated people in my work. I meet people frequently who are always chasing after something – trying to realize their dream – yet they never seem to catch what they are chasing.

Many times – and we are all prone to doing this occasionally – we make excuses better than we make progress.

I think there may be simple reasons some people never realize their dreams.

Here are 5 of the real reasons many dreams never come true:

People quit trying.

They gave up. They may have tried before and it didn’t work, so now they don’t try at all. Seldom is a dream – a worthy, God-given dream – realized on the first attempt or without a lot of effort. The greatest discoveries are seldom found along the path of least resistance. Dreams are realized with prayer, persistence and perseverance. The best dreams are usually achieved just past the point where average effort stops.

People aren’t willing to work hard enough.

I think sometimes we expect dreams “just to happen”, because we had the dream. But, dreams don’t happen by chance. Being lucky isn’t usually a required skill in achieving dreams. You might occasionally be “in the right place at the right time”, but those opportunities are rare. If you have a dream it will be difficult to achieve. Should I say it again? It will be difficult. There will likely be lots of long days, sleepless nights and sweat equity. Otherwise it’s not much of a dream.

People put too much hope in others and not enough confidence in themselves.

Others don’t put as much energy or thought into your dream as you do. Many people never realize a dream because they expected something from others they never agreed to do. If you want your dream to come true you will have to go for it even when others aren’t as supportive as you would like them to be.

I should not here – this doesn’t mean we discount the voices of others completely. For example, I don’t believe God calls a married couple to competing dreams. He may lay a dream on one heart before he does the other – and one person may be more adventurous than the other – but, in the end God will bring the two together on the same dream if it is His will for the couple. Sometimes we need others to help us discern what God is calling us to do and what he is not.

People have unrealistic dreams.

This may be where other people help us discern our dreams. Some dreams simply aren’t realistic. If the dream is for a trouble-free, perfect life – that’s probably not going to become a reality. Winning the lottery as a retirement plan – statistically speaking – may not be a realistic dream. Expecting your family to always be “drama free” – well, best wishes on that dream. Learning to navigate an excellent dream in the midst of a world full of sorrow is a key to discovering the greatest and most achievable dreams in life.

People devalue the dreams already realized.

This is a biggie. What if you are already “living the dream”? Right now you may not have all you want, but considering the fallen world around us many of us have pretty good lives comparatively. Sometimes contentment is our problem more than not achieving the next great dream. If we always live thinking the “grass is greener” with the “next big thing” we never fully appreciate the dreams God has already given us. In fact, I believe God may often wait to give us what’s next until we learn how to be satisfied (in Him) where He currently has allowed us to be.

I am a proponent of dreaming! I think it can be healthy for us personally and even for couples. I am more of a dreamer than my wife, but dreaming together has been a part of keeping our marriage strong over the years. We’ve loved dreaming ahead, watching, waiting, and working for what is next. Here’s to better dreaming in your world!